Thomas Ralph Epstein (Boston College)


From 09:00
to 10:30
From 09:00
to 10:30

Course Overview
Combining readings in literature and philosophy, artists’ statements and visits to several of Venice’s museums and perhaps a concert hall, as well as viewing three films, this course will explore the concept of Modernism as an international phenomenon and the triumphs and tragedies associated with it. Beginning with Max Weber’s epochal essay “Science as a Vocation” and Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” both written in 1918, we will attend to the artistic, intellectual, and social expressions of European civilization in the period between 1915 and 1945. Emphasizing the convergences of artistic experimentation and social change and crisis, we will read from the contrasting thought of Walter Benjamin and José Ortega y Gasset; the fiction of Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, and Thomas Mann; Pirandello’s theatrical masterpiece Six Characters in Search of an Author; and poems from Eliot, Apollinaire, and Ungaretti. Reading from a variety of artists’ statements (including Marinetti, Breton, Apollinaire, and Mondrian), we will emphasize the phenomena of Cubism, Futurism, and abstract art, which will take us to the museums of Venice. Through the films of Eisenstein (“Battleship Potemkin”), Lang (“Metropolis”), and Chaplin (“Modern Times”), we will discuss the rise and potential of the seventh art. The course will end with Albert Camus and Simone Weil, two hyper-lucid figures who dared hope in the face of the absurd.

Course goals
_To provide students with the background and intellectual tools to think critically about modernity and 20th century Modernism.
_Through close readings improve student analytic abilities of literary and other texts.
_To make connections between developments in the arts and in society.
_To make connections among the various arts.
_To note the continuities and discontinuities between our times and the context of intellectual life one hundred years ago.
_To create a learning environment that encourages student initiative and intellectual risk-taking.

Course format and expectations
The course will combine lecture and class discussion. There will be three five-page (1500 word) prompted essays and an oral final.

Class attendance and participation count for thirty-five per cent of your grade; written work and the oral exam the rest.

General Scheme of the Course
Week 1: Introduction & Nietzsche (selections from Beyond Good and Evil)
Week 2: Max Weber (Science as a Vocation), Georg Simmel (The Metropolis and Mental Life), and W.B. Yeats (The Second Coming, Sailing to Byzantium)
Week 3: Baudelaire (prose and poetry) and T.S. Eliot (Prufrock, Gerontion, Hollow Men, The Wasteland)
Week 4: Franz Kafka (In the Penal Colony & The Metamorphosis) & Italo Svevo (The Hoax)
Week 5: Ortega y Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses) & Apollinaire/Ungaretti
Film: The Battleship Potemkin
First Prompt
Week 6: Artist Statements (Marinetti, Breton, Apollinaire, Mondrian)
Week 7: Walter Benjamin & Ortega (The Dehumanization of Art)
Visit to International Gallery of Modern Art
Week 8: Pirandello (Six Characters in Search of an Author) & Artist Statements (Gleizes, Picasso, Braques)
Film: Metropolis
Second Prompt
Week 9: Thomas Mann (Death in Venice)
Week 10: Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
Visit to Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Week 11: Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway & Theodor Adorno on Modernism in the arts
Film: Modern Times
Third Prompt
Week 12: Camus, The Stranger & Simone Weil, (The Iliad or Poem of the Force)
Finals week: Oral Exam


Isola di San Servolo
30133 Venice,

phone: +39 041 2719511
fax:+39 041 2719510

VAT: 02928970272